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(ILR) Antoine Lortie: Systema Obscura, Projecting into the Mind of the State

Updated: Jun 14



Case Study

Systema Obscura, Projecting into the Mind of the State


Is the format of the artistic project proposal a space of pure projection, or is it an area already submitted to the taboos and lower judgments of societal norms, incapable of rising above its condition of implementation? What use would the arts be if that were the case? In the highly tamed, administratively led professional art community of Quebec City, Canada, this threshold has long been crossed, since 2012 precisely. Once again, violence raised a question of context bounded by virtuality, which we managed to answer in a proper painterly manner, with dimensionalization.


During the spring of 2012, a fiery revolt ignited among Quebec's student youth. In a tradition familiar to union circles, the arrival of spring signaled more than just a change in weather—it marked the beginning of a student strike. This time, the student union took a stand against the government's decision to increase university fees in pursuit of greater profitability. The result was the largest student movement strike in history, characterized by a mix of conflict, camaraderie, and confusion. For my graduating class in Media and Visual Arts, 2012 was a milestone year, culminating in our final exhibition.


As part of this last step, the graduating students were tasked with collaborating with an independent curator from the community. This collaboration involved submitting project proposals to demonstrate our artistic direction and intentions. The student committee overseeing the exhibition facilitated this process, managing the submission and review of proposals to ensure a professional approach and workflow among students.


One project proposal, in particular, drew significant attention. Submitted by a student known for provocative performances and controversial artwork, the proposal suggested a project involving the kidnapping and intent to harm by 'beating them with a steel sledgehammer.' This proposal raised concerns among the student committee and school officials, who were unsure of its intent. The matter was escalated to the director, and ultimately, legal action was taken against the student. He was condemned to house arrest for 2 years on the count of death threats.


As a witness to these events, I observed the complexities of artistic expression within institutional structures. This case raised important questions about the boundaries of artistic freedom, the role of institutions in defining acceptable expression, and moreover, the legitimacy of juries of peers to infer authority and judgment over the intent of an artwork yet unmade.


What this project meant for David is unknown to me, as much as the twisted level of humor he hid in it. The intention of one another is opaque to benevolent hermeneutics. However, it’s the question that David's project raised that I've kept asking myself... Who owns the space of projection? Who rules over it, and what are the rules of projection? I won’t sedate a passing pedestrian to tattoo over them a recursive Wim Delvoye artwork and wear it, blood-soaked and frolicking, at the ballerina practice in the public center down the street... But I might think of it, and while pondering this grotesque Belgian-centered joke, an idea might arise that disseminates over my imagination and leads me to a way, a proper vector that aligns straight, one after the other, multiple impossibilities. Shattering cosmic debris, asteroids of delineated shapes, never enough to hide the sun from the darkness of my deadly wounded heart. What are then the ugly limits, those horrible persons put over my contention, irreprehensible imagination that cathartically bursts over the earth in the hyper-optimal palimpsestic crystal that is my painting.


Tragedy aside, we came to understand this problematic as a topological question. Call it rules or limits, David crossed it. Sadly for him, good for us, we are now gifted with an insight into the flawed system that has already spread far and wide over our already convenient artistic hopes.


We, as artists, propose projects in a state of unrealized intentions, and we are judged on this moment, where the examen probes, tests, and weighs the realizability potential of the laid- out intention. What is actually made, in a project proposal form, is an extension of the contemporary essence of art. A novel, condensed but especially catalytic primer that instantiates a projected work of art in an argument wholly directed at the jury of peers. It now lays bare within this docile workflow the contempt over the object for the solicitation of the project. Indeed, the project is logocentric, written in words, comes with an economical reasoning, the budget, a logistical layout, the schedule, and instances of past realized projects, to operate a parallel copycat, maybe facilitating mimetic behavior from the position of the patron. It is as if the administration of the arts could be the entry point to investigate formalistically the phenomenological nature of management figure, structure, and behavior towards outer agentic vectors (in this case, the rumbling artist outside the door). But it would stop there; we would recreate the artistic dominion over external agents within the systemic examen we have to obediently adhere to. The condition of success, what has to be understood as what would be actual art, would be refrained from intellectual investment.


The Dulac case took a long moment to take root in me, and this very text made concrete the gaseous state of doubt I was laying of the public institution of the arts. Aside from this particular event, I personally poked the system here and there in the last year, culminating in a troubling four censorship events, all different in nature, but mostly centered around two organizations in Quebec City and Rimouski. In one case, a cease and desist letter came by bailiff. It's a beautiful day in the Quebec Art administration countryside, sunshine is grazing the grass and birds hum the melodies of happiness. I’m alone here, hands full of petrified, smelly flowers. Persephone is by my side, and we are waiting for Hades. Follow through to find out how I will totally take advantage of this situation.


Theoretical Framework


I wish to act upon this idea that I've been pondering. An artist is not simply projecting their artistic intent, in the administrative forms, but is already engaged in the creation of a being that must contend with unknown forces. In the case of Dulac, these unknown forces took authority over his words and transformed a space of belief into a literal projection. Their mode of operation was to approve or reject the project, rather than arbitrating over artistic methods, thus setting the stage for the project's realization. Irony, or any literary device, becomes instantly questionable in this context, significantly limiting the expressive boundaries to a crude and tangible bureaucratic language, if one aims to be eligible at all. Hopefully, we are educated in cybernetic peer-pressure and visceral accelerationism.


This piece is titled "Systema Obscura," reminiscent of the Camera Obscura discovery. The minds of the peers evaluating the proposal become the wall upon which the projection falls. The artist is the light source, and his projection is the image. To operate the Systema Obscura, one must project an intent that overrides any realizable function that usually confines imagination or societal norms. The tension of the system, now the knowledge of pretending to maintain a stable conceptualization of art, is the flaw and the cornerstone within the minds of the seated jury. On this chair, a world is held in perfect equilibrium. We then approach a new form of information-shaped artistic transmutation. The artistic intent is withdrawn from the virtual projectability phase, made actual by the jury's approval, and flows into the entelechial realm of art above the unworthy arbiter.


The Dulac Case and the four instances of censorship make one thing clear: the project proposal can’t presently reflect upon itself. It is a liminal space of filtration and contentious examination of realizable potential. Here, we foresee two different courses of action. One, akin to Cerberus, with jaws drooling ashes and blood, to reclaim any parcel of conceptual spheres that has even slightly been fantasized by normative bureaucrats over artistic vitality, back to our mode of operation. The second is to macro-set a structuring vector to illuminate orbiting bureaucratic manifestations, spawning a systemic reenactment of formalistic behavior and catatonic tendencies in public administration, normalizing everything to death.

David Roden's Dark Phenomenology thesis approaches a speculative state that parallels a level of artistic bewilderment reminiscent of the cybernetic preoccupations of the European avant-garde. To enact this teleological warfare over the emancipation of artistic will inside its own contemporary space of pretended affirmativity is to burst open the bedrock floor of who decides what, when, and how art is measurable. Art has been rendered mediumless, a neurocognitive failure that instantiates the hard trial of love over the standard administrative negative feedback loop.


The model-based layout of Patricia Reed's theoretical research substantiates the auto- institutionalization of the artistic programmatic ethos within oneself to expand the content of the artwork to a contending state, translating the artistic enterprise not only in the reconditionalization of creation but also in the rehauling of the maximal worldview extension of the idiomatic reality of the artistic present.

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